CPT's Page on Defamation and Libel Cases

Also see James Love's 17 Recent Foreign Defamation Stories.

Barrick Gold Mining/ Observer of London Libel Dispute

Godfrey Cases

Godfrey v. Demon Internet

Dr. Laurence Godfrey is a British physicist who, according to several Wired News articles (referenced below) has been involved in 10 Internet libel lawsuits In 1998, Godfrey won a libel out-of-court settlement again British ISP Demon Internet UK for 15,000 pounds (plus 250,000 pounds for his legal expenses).

The resolution of the Godfrey vs. Demon case had an immediate effect on Internet free speech, especially in England. According to an April 2000 "Media Release" from Internet Freedom (referenced below)

"NetBenefit PLC felt compelled to close the site of 'Outcast' after solicitors who represent the Pink Paper wrote warning that NetBenefit would be jointly liable for anything defamatory that Outcast put on their site. Chris Morris editor of Outcast suggested that the closure might be because 'the legal climate is ambiguous following the Demon settlement'.

The Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain (CACIB) ran the story, only to be shut down by ISP Instant Web Ltd following the threat of libel action from Laurence Godfrey himself. CACIB had described the closure of Outcast as being 'Godfrey's first victim' - a reference to the out-of-court settlement in favour of Godfrey."

Godfrey v. Cornell University/ Dolenga

In this case, Godfrey alleged that several defamatory messages about him were posted on on the soc.culture.canada newsgroup by a Cornell University graduate student and Canadian citizen (Michael Dolenga) using Cornell as an ISP. Soon after Dolenga's original post, Godfrey requested that Cornell University block Dolenga from posting any additional such messages. Cornell denied this request Several years after the postings had been made, Godfrey sued both Dolenga (who had since graduated) and Cornell University in England for defamation. Godfrey won a default judgement against Dolenga, who did not offer a defense.

" 'Are we going to apply the strictest standard possible because of the possibility of a libel suit anywhere in the world?' asks Nelson Roth, Cornell's associate university counsel. 'Do we apply the law of Iraq, for example, even if it is inconsistent with our own legal principles?' "

Mexican Por Esto Defamation Case

"Now Banamex has sued Por Esto's editor, Mario Menendez -- as well as a Latin American Web newsletter and its editor, Al Giordano -- in New York State court. It claims that statements Menendez and Giordano made in public forums in New York last year were slanderous. (The two editors delivered a lecture at Columbia University, spoke on a WBAI radio program and were quoted in an article in the Village Voice.)

However, Banamex also cites eight articles Giordano published about Por Esto's findings on his website, NarcoNews.com, as part of a libel claim that could have considerable impact on Internet journalism.

'You have a Mexican business -- (in) this case the Bank of Mexico, very much a Mexican business -- suing for stories concerning activities that took place in Mexico,' said Thomas Lesser, a First Amendment attorney in Northampton, Mass. 'And they're suing a website that emanates in Mexico -- in New York.' "

Dow Jones/ Gutnick Defamation Case

Italian Internet Defamation Case

This convoluted case involved unamed parties, and allegedly defamatory material related to a trans-border child custody battle. The Italian Court of Cassation ruled (overturning a lower court verdict) that Italy has jursidiction over foreign websites that violate Italian law, because such sites may be accessed by Italian Internet-users.

An Ecompany.com article speculated on the potential implications of this decision(referenced below):

"Exactly how Italian authorities plan to enforce a judgment against an unidentifiable person in Israel -- or whether they will try to extend liability to an Israeli server -- remains to be seen. Regardless, the case establishes an important precedent for Italian authorities to hold a foreign company liable for violating any number of laws that may be unique to Italy."

Berezovsky / Forbes Magazine Dispute

This case concerns an article in Forbes magazine about Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky entitled "Is he the Godfather of the Kremlin? Pwer, Politics, Murder Boris Berezovsky could teach the guys in Sicily a thing or two." Even though Forbes is an American-based magazine, and has relatively few subscriptions in England or Russia, Berezovsky and another Russian businessman sued Forbes in England. This case was dismissed. According to a Fall 1998 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP bulletin (referenced below),

"The Court noted that Berezovsky's ties to the U.K. were 'tenuous.' Although he frequently visited and kept an apartment in London, and his ex-wife and children live in London, the Forbes article did not report on anything to do with his British activities. In examining suitable alternative jurisdictions, the Court concluded that this 'is a peculiarly Russian case'-Russian witnesses, Russian companies, Russian personalities.5 The judge was unimpressed by the argument advanced by the alleged mobster that "vindication of the plaintiff in Russia will be of no value' "
Upon appeal, the House of Lords reached a 3 to 2 decision in favor of letting the Russion plaintiffs proceed with their libel case in England. In this second House of Lords case, Lord Hoffman cautioned against setting a precedent for libel forum-shopping (quote excerpted from Communications Law in Transition Newsletter, referenced below):

"My Lords, I would not deny that in some respects an English court would be admirably suitable for this purpose ...

"But that does not mean we should always put ourselves forward as the most appropriate forum in which any foreign publisher who has distributed copies in this country, or whose publications have been downloaded here from the internet, can be required to answer the complaint of any public figure with an international reputation, however little the dispute has to do with England."

Matusevich / Telnikoff

Amazon.com Book Disputes

A Piece of Blue Sky

British writer Jon Atack authored a book entitled A Piece of Blue Sky that criticized Scientology.

The Committee: Political Assasination in Northern Ireland

A June 14, 1999 Irish Times article (referenced below) detailed Trimble's objections against Amazon.com.

"In a statement yesterday, Mr Trimble said he had instructed solicitors Henry Hepworth to take a case against Amazon UK because it is selling via the Internet The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland. The solicitors said the book contained a 'number of malicious, untrue and unsupportable allegations against Mr Trimble, including that he has been involved in sectarian murders'.

His lawyers added: 'The book's author and American publishers made a conscious decision not to offer the book for sale in bookshops in the UK. However, Amazon are now actively promoting the book on its website, to the extent of highlighting Mr Trimble's alleged sectarian crimes.

'Although the allegations are baseless and beneath contempt, Mr Trimble has had to recognise that through the actions of Amazon they are gaining wide circulation within the United Kingdom.' "

Resources and Papers on Libel and Defamation

Questions, comments and suggestions to Vergil Bushnell vbushnell@cptech.org

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